A growing market for high protein wheats – known as German E winter wheats – are gaining traction in the UK.

Said to offer high gluten, high quality and strong disease resistance, they are becoming more popular with UK growers. That’s partly down to the fact that the UK imports more than 675,000 tonnes annually of strong wheat with high gluten quality for breadmaking from mainly Canada, but also Germany, and the US. But there are also agronomic and market benefits for UK growers too.

George Mason, from Heygates Millers, said that demand for UK-grown milling wheat is increasing: “We are committed to using the maximum amount of homegrown wheat wherever possible, but for some of our flour, we require wheat with specific characteristics or functionality that we cannot achieve with traditional grains.”

He explained that wheats established onto UK farms, give growers a premium over group one milling wheat. “We’ve identified that Nelson, grown to 14% protein, brings us quality and functionality that will displace imported wheat.

Through baking, we found that it showed a white crumb, no evidence of weakness and produced loaves of good volume.

“By offering a buy-back contract that incentivises growers, the combination of an additional quality premium and the benefits of the variety on-farm, we are finding the variety very popular.”

Oxfordshire-based agronomist, Geoffrey Hawes, also thought the benefits of Nelson need to be more understood. “Since Nelson was introduced into commercial trials in the UK, in 2014, it’s been the cleanest variety I’ve dealt with. It’s suited to a wide range of soil types, including drought-prone land or soils with limited yield potential and last year it yielded well, despite the lack of rain, on account of being a tall variety with good standing ability.”

Nelson’s height is believed to link directly with its ability to compete with blackgrass and has a late and wide drilling window, from the end of September to February. “If we have a blackgrass problem, we can’t drill winter cereals until the middle of October. Nelson fits this bill admirably,” he added.

Lincolnshire-based seed and grain specialist, Cope Seeds and Grain, has been supplying such German E wheats to the UK market for more than 10 years.

Oxfordshire arable farmer, James Thomson, had included Nelson in his rotation over the last four years. “Last year I was amazed with the harvest, we had no rain for the best part of two months and Nelson was the best grain I produced in 2018.”

He started growing Nelson because of its fusarium resistance and he’s found it to be as clean as it claims. “Our fungicide bill was £33/ha from 2016 to 2018 for Nelson. We used to grow maize and it had high carry-over for fusarium. It has good disease resistance, it’s cheap to grow in terms of inputs and it’s always reached market specification.

“The quality is high, with Hagberg averaging at 344, the highest recorded was 399. Nelson is a proper grade one milling wheat and I don’t know why more people don’t grow the variety,” he added.